My personal belief is that the simple act of putting a hashtag in front of any word on social media strips it of all meaning.
I’m as guilty as the next person of indulging in #catsofinstagram but when it comes to words like “mindfulness” and “wellbeing”, I’m starting to forget that it has less to do with yoga silhouettes against pastel sunsets and more to do with a deep and personal sense of contentment and ease.
I tried two wellness retreats as part of my “mindfulness journey” last year and it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation. A simple Google search will tell you that these experiences, aimed at promoting the increasingly popular notion of “holistic wellbeing”, can run the gamut from gimmicky spa treatments to programmes involving blood transfusions and metaphysical energy healing. The latter subscribes to the idea that you have to rid your body of all negative energies to receive the positive energies of the universe, a process that can involve near-starvation.
Even within this segment, however, are vastly different methods of achieving your wellness goal. Both Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary Phuket and Revivo Wellness Resort in Bali, for example, have tailor-made programmes that cater to various wellbeing goals, but where Banyan Tree adopts a more laid-back approach, encouraging guests to cherry-pick activities that appeal to them, Revivo has a more regimented set-up aimed at pushing you to finally hit the “reset” button.
The effectiveness of each approach depends entirely on your own personality and history, but they do have one thing in common – joy.
“I truly believe that wellbeing has to be sustainable and long-term, and for it to be sustainable it has to be enjoyable to you.”
Laurie Mias, the CEO of Revivo Wellness Resort, an intimate retreat in Nusa Dua, Bali, with only 16 villas, agrees that the notion of wellbeing necessarily involves happiness, but she adds an extra consideration – training.
The training takes place through an entirely immersive experience. Depending on the programme chosen, guests staying at the Bali resort might begin each day with three cleansing shots, followed by yoga or HIIT (high-intensity interval training), a healthy breakfast, and more physical activity and meditation classes interspersed throughout the day. These activities are scheduled around meals that – speaking as someone who lives on red meat and trans fats – taste surprisingly good given how healthy they are.
“Our belief is to serve food as close to its natural state as possible, with a mission to sharpen and delight taste buds, while continuously supporting health,” Mias says of the dishes, which are heavy on whole fruit, vegetables, chia seeds and ingredients that I’ve only ever read about in vegan articles.
“Each dish is designed to deliver nutrients and help invigorate and nourish the body with exactly what it needs – vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants,” Mias continues. “We take into consideration the customer’s needs. For example, if a client is doing the sleep and relax retreat, we won’t be serving them coffee, but foods to promote their sleep.”
“It is scientifically proved that to achieve happiness you need to train the mind,” Mias explains.
“When designing [Revivo’s programmes] we had to keep in mind that our goal was to train our clients … At the end of their journey they need to feel they’ve achieved their goals and feel accomplished.”
Revivo has on-site experts to cater to a wide variety of needs, from certified Pilates and yoga teachers to Ayurvedic and acupuncture doctors.
Banyan Tree approaches holistic wellbeing in much the same way, with four curated programmes – New Wellbeing, Balanced Fitness, Mindful Awareness and Urban Detox – featuring activities that range from posture alignment and learning the local language to gratitude and sound meditation experiences, as well as the usual variety of HIIT, yoga and Pilates classes.
“A 30-minute consultation is never enough for a third party to really know you. We merely aim to inspire you and let you discover yourself,” Lee says. He adds that in addition to balancing physical, mental and spiritual health, holistic wellbeing also encompasses environmental aspects as well as human connection. With the resort’s emphasis on freedom and flexibility, guests are encouraged to personalise their experiences by choosing activities that interest them most, or even opt out altogether if what they feel they need the most that day is to do nothing beyond venturing out for a dip in their villa pool.
This deliberately gentle approach, far from tempting guests to slack off, actually inspires them to be more proactive, at least it did in my case. Through some trick of reverse psychology, I found myself paying more attention to how I felt – physically and mentally – and actively seeking out activities that would enrich my life and happiness, what one might call the first steps towards mindfulness, which Lee tells me is a state closely related to meditation.
“Ultimately, we want to offer you a place where you can seek enjoyment, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, inspire you after you leave us. It should be at your own pace and your own time. You can’t force-feed rice to a baby,” Lee says. “To change the world, it has to be fun.”